Does Jesus still have meaning for today’s youth?

I tackle the question of whether Jesus still has meaning for today’s young people from the stance of one who has traversed my allotted three score years and 10. My footprint spans a rather rocky and murky age of moral liberation, nuclear threat, escalating greed for instant gratification and the fallout from these personal and global choices.

Amazon.com offers more than 263 thousand books and materials about the life of Jesus. Other internet searches show about one and a half million searches for His name. Today, it seems that people are searching for something that makes sense in this “tick in a tumble drier” world.

Young people stand up and cry (literally) about climate change, pollution, sexual identification, political power struggles and everything that also confuses and confounds those of us who are supposedly mature. 

It seems that the youth of today are deep thinkers who seek solutions, but often end up blaming the previous generation for their woes, not stopping to reflect on the effect of their own love for technology, fast foods, entertainment and instant gratification.

And so we have a generational collision where we try to find sense and hope in this rapidly changing life landscape.

As I move in Christian circles, I prodded the minds of young Christian people to find out whether they feel that Jesus is relevant to modern youth. Despite struggling to differentiate between reality and fake news, their answer is still an unequivocal “yes”. 

But many want Him on their own terms. Life as the secular world paints it is glamorous, fun, anything goes — whatever gels your hair back is acceptable. After all, we can confess tomorrow and all will be forgiven.

Some of the feedback I got was understandably off pat because the young people were brought up in Christian homes and lived by Christian standards. Even “nominal Christians” felt that Jesus Christ is relevant to young people today, without giving any real in-depth reason for this.

Jonathan Morrow, of Impact 360 Institute, says: “With the best of intentions, we bubble-wrap our kids and create Disney World environments for them in our churches, and then wonder why they have no resilience in faith or life.

“Students are entertained but not prepared. They’ve had a lot of fun but are not ready to lead. In fact, this is the least Christian generation to date.”

And that’s a frightening state of affairs, given that this generation faces problems previously only envisaged in science fiction movies. They are suffering greater degrees of anxiety, depression and mental illness. 

Young people today could resonate with Jesus — a deep thinker and world changer who, according to the Apostle Luke, was as a teen precociously learned.

Young people today acknowledge the presence of good and evil in the world and attribute it all to human depravity. They acknowledge the need for a moral compass, but unless they have something solid on which to base their morality, their choices can be easily shaped by a “whatever makes you feel good” attitude.

Is it possible to find one source from which every person ever born can find the peace, joy and hope that they need to traverse this life?

His name is Jesus. Aka Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, The Good Shepherd. Not a tailor, but a carpenter born more than 2 000 years ago who fulfilled more than 324 specific Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah — the Saviour of humankind.

Like many young people today, Jesus stood up to authority, spoke His mind despite opposition and gathered enormous groups of followers around Him. 

Many “unfriended” Him when He did not turn out to be the kind of hero they expected. The great difference is that Jesus’s worldview was always based on the Will of God, and He refused to compromise, even when Satan tempted Him with all manner of worldly things and offered Him power over all of the world.

Young people have a voice and it needs to be heard. But older people have the experience and patience to ride out situations and still see hope in the future. Life has taught us that. And the closer we walk with Jesus Christ, the more serene our attitudes. We too were once hot-headed youths. We are among the generations that gathered on city squares, attended sit-ins in government spaces, carried placards, chanted slogans to end racial segregation, protested against wars, penned and sang songs like Give Peace a Chance and Gimme Hope Jo’anna

Exposed to apartheid, the Vietnam War, Bay of Pigs, Tiananmen Square and the threat of nuclear war, we had to confront our own mortality and fears.

And that is why so many older people trust Jesus Christ as their source of peace and hope despite living in deeply troubling times. 

Hope means “to desire something with confident expectation of its fulfilment”. Being hopeless means being filled with endless despair with no belief that this can ever end.

Evangelical research firm Lifeway Research shows that people are turning to religion to find hope and be able to cope during the Covid-19 pandemic and current troubling times. Christianity in particular is growing at a phenomenal rate. With a 1.17% growth rate, almost 2.56 billion people will identify as a Christian by the middle of 2022. By 2050, that number is expected to top 3.33 billion.

Christianity Today magazine reports that millions of people who turned to Google with their anxiety over Covid-19 have ended up connecting with Christian evangelists in their search results — leading to a spike in online conversions in recent months. As the emptiness experienced when the brittle peace offered by materialism, popularity, and false security of this world crumbles, people instinctively turn to God.

Emerging from the pandemic, yet still living with it, many are struggling to come to terms with interrupted life plans, shattered dreams and the harsh reality that we can’t control most of what happens around us. Now more than ever, people need the solid foundation and hope which faith in Jesus Christ brings.

Author Albert Camus said: “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.” 

May the younger people, who are our future, understand this and live it out.

With Jesus Christ as our moral compass and our source of peace and hope we can face whatever life throws at us — at any age — and share His amazing grace and love with a world which desperately needs hope.

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Olive Smith
Olive Smith is the preacher at Sparks Estate Methodist Church in Sydenham, Durban. She is known for rejuvenating and relaunching creches and churches in KwaZulu-Natal, particularly in the poorer, southern areas of the province

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